We are sharing stories about Johnny Crawford from his friends and fans. If you’d like to submit a story, please use the email on our Contact page. It can be about meeting Johnny, working with him, seeing him perform, or about how his work has touched your life.
Living in the Past with Johnny Crawford
By Laurie W.
It’s certainly true that some aspects of Johnny’s long career and energetic offscreen pursuits are well known to the public. A talented actor and top selling recording artist, Johnny also parlayed his love of horses and equine skills into championship rodeo competition. And as vocalist and bandleader of the popular Johnny Crawford Orchestra for more than a quarter century, he immersed audiences in another of his passions – music of the late 1920s and early 30s. Performed in the crooning, often carefree style of the period, Johnny used authentic dance band arrangements obtained through his own diligent research. Another unique aspect of Johnny’s shows were his significant dramatic abilities that could effortlessly transport both the audience and himself to the period in which the songs were originally released, enjoyably recreating the era for an entire evening.
However, another facet of Johnny’s life is not so widely known: his great affection and encyclopedic knowledge of silent movies. Introduced to the genre as a child by parents Betty and Bob at L.A.’s Silent Movie Theatre with siblings Nance and Bobby, Johnny became enthralled. Betty also taught him how to dance the Charleston, in which he became proficient. Johnny eventually set up the BJ Nickelodeon in the family residence with brother Bobby and enthusiastically screened the format on a home projector for family and friends. As an adult Johnny enjoyed attending silent film events, too, and as time went on amassed not only a large film collection but related memorabilia like lobby cards, posters, production stills and more.
It was at a silent film showing in Hollywood’s The Barn during the late 1980s that I first met Johnny, as I’ve loved silents and the period, too, since childhood. Today as the Hollywood Heritage Museum many silent film artifacts are on display and the former stable is on the National Historic Registry as the studio where Hollywood’s first feature was shot by Cecil B. DeMille in 1913. Beginning in the 1980s, regular film programs might include silent actors or industry guests and we felt privileged listening to their first hand stories. Johnny also told me that on The Rifleman set, Paul Fix often spun tales of his own Hollywood experiences from the silent era, which would mesmerize him. I remember it was interesting to discover in getting to know Johnny over time many objects in our respective collections like paper items, Blackhawk films, records and even some obscure books like 1927’s Stars of the Movies and Featured Players were mirror images, which was fun. Johnny enjoyed initiating silent movie “quiz games” about the actors, movies or locales where they were filmed, although early talkies like Bing Crosby’s Mack Sennett shorts were included, too. Yet, it was rare I could ever stump Johnny! His extensive knowledge in both films and music of the period was not only outstanding, but filled with a joyful enthusiasm. Johnny’s favorite actors were Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Buster Keaton, William S. Hart, Gary Cooper and Will Rogers. But without a doubt his favorite talkie actress was always Jean Harlow. Favorite vocalists include Bing Crosby, Russ Colombo, Al Jolson, Smith Ballew and Rudy Vallee. Jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke was much admired, too.
Johnny never lost a lifelong fascination for this entertaining period in time and its history. After he became a resident at Glen Park assisted living in 2019, I was permitted to take him on weekly, sometimes more, day long outings, many of which were tailored to this era and always energized him. We also regularly visited local stables, so Johnny could enjoy hanging out with the horses – who definitely liked visiting with him just as much! Other destinations included former silent movie studios, museums, historic neighborhoods and parks, silent movie screenings and guided tours of Victorian and early 20th c buildings. Photos from these excursions were often used on Johnny’s Legacy Facebook page.
In addition to period music, Johnny was a fan of antique gramophones, especially the ones with big “morning glory” horns. So when the Antique Phonograph Society’s annual show took place in August, 2019, Johnny was eager to attend the all day event with me. Being immersed in such a hands on atmosphere of hundreds of victrolas, cylinder gramophones, sheet music, and more was exciting and stimulating to him. As we wandered through the aisles, Johnny often stopped to examine or admire an antique machine’s beauty while displaying a practiced hand at cranking it up. He asked questions of dealers and throughout the afternoon happily sang or hummed along to songs like “Piccolo Pete,” Bing Crosby’s “Please” and others playing on nearby victrolas. Some people were dancing to the music and we did, too. Show attendees included fellow period musicians, fans of Johnny’s orchestra and a former band member, all of whom stopped to say hi. A friend from my Model T Club approached, too, and he and Johnny chatted a little about their mutual interests in antique cars, since Johnny had a 1930 Chrysler. By the time the show wound down, Johnny was beaming at his take home finds of antique sheet music and a Sophie Tucker CD.
Johnny always had a great sense of humor and was quite witty. We had a lot of laughs, and after his move to an assisted living, Johnny didn’t lose his penchant for playing the occasional practical joke. One evening in the fall of 2019, we attended a special showing of Mabel Normand’s film, Mickey at the Music Box Cinema. The event included exhibits of the silent comedienne’s personal belongings and memorabilia, which Johnny enthusiastically reviewed. But after awhile, he turned to me with an animated “She’s here!” “Who’s here?”’ I asked. “Mabel!” said Johnny, with a glint in his eye. “I saw her. Come on….” To humor Johnny, I hastily followed him down a hallway, as did fellow attendee friend, Ellen. Finally, after several minutes of Keystone Cops-like pursuit, Johnny announced with a mischievous grin that Mabel must’ve been in a hurry and left. Well! I decided to carry Johnny’s joke a little further. “No, she’s right here – it’s me!” I kidded. Immediately a playful, whack with the program booklet landed squarely on my shoulder as everyone heartily laughed. Johnny sure liked a good joke.
Johnny’s comedic side was never far from the surface. Another funny incident occurred at Glen Park in 2020 as we browsed the pages of a 1920s Photoplay magazine with interesting stories and photos in Johnny’s room. All of a sudden, his face took on a bewildered Three Stooges-like expression. “Johnny, are you okay? Johnny?” I asked with concern. In a flash, the silly look was replaced by a big smile. “Gotcha!” he laughed, pointing a finger, delighted at his prank. “You should be an actor,” I joked, while Johnny grinned in mock protest “But I am an actor!” It was fun to jest, and Johnny enjoyed similar banter onscreen during the Three Stooges 35mm Festival we attended a couple of months earlier. He liked Laurel and Hardy a lot, too.
A special accolade for Johnny materialized the day we visited the former William S. Hart/Mabel Normand studio in September, 2019. Now known as the Mack Sennett Studios, it retains many early features and is considered the most original existing silent film studio. Johnny was captivated by period artifacts on display and we were taken on an interesting tour of the quaint building. But our call turned out to have an unexpected highlight during a meeting with the studio’s owner. As a careful steward of its history, he was delighted to spend time with Johnny additionally for portraying their studio’s previous owner-star William S. Hart in the film Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws (aka The Marshal) in 2019. He conveyed how proud staff were that Johnny wanted to see their studio, and were glad to learn of his own personal connection to the silent genre. Johnny felt honored and the afternoon was a unique and happy experience for him. It was topped off by a light hearted suggestion that he be addressed as “Mr. Hart” while on the property, making Johnny chuckle.
One of Johnny’s favorite places to spend time was Carroll Avenue on the National Historic Registry. He was always awed by the abundance of magnificent Victorian mansions with brightly colored gingerbread trims and turrets proudly lining the streets, some of which had remarkable pasts. Johnny would exclaim about the loveliness of these homes, and we’d choose our favorites. Another excursion to Carroll Avenue in March, 2020 became Johnny’s last outing before the lockdown.
As we drove around Los Angeles, Johnny frequently liked to sing along and keep time to the music on my cassette deck. Later during our twice weekly lockdown visits, I’d often bring my tape recorder, which elicited the same spirited response. Johnny might also comment on the song selections of 1920s – 1960s music or harmonize with favorites like Al Jolson and the Everly Brothers. I remember once in 2020 when my car’s cassette player wasn’t working properly, I suggested Johnny might have to sing instead…! With a smile, he quickly took up the challenge, launching into one of his favorite Bing Crosby tunes, “If I Had You.” At other times we’d watch films and videos on my laptop, which sparked memories for Johnny, who cheerfully recalled his own appearances on 1960s TV shows like Shindig and American Bandstand.
Another bright spot for Johnny was hearing from his fans, whose interesting, uplifting messages brought him joy to know people were thinking of him. Johnny was excited that thousands of readers look at his Legacy Facebook page and Legacy Website, and I’d regularly bring Legacy Facebook page printouts with messages for him. Johnny would either read over these himself or I’d read to him from the window during lockdown, when connections became even more heartening. He’d smile and occasionally comment at the many posts, photos and examples of how much he’d personally inspired and enriched people’s lives through his acting and music. As always, knowing how much his fans cared meant a great deal to Johnny over the decades.
A Fan in The Netherlands
by Arie van Nierop (in Rotterdam)
Until about fifteen years ago, I had never heard of Johnny Crawford and The Rifleman. The series has never been shown in the Netherlands. Ever since my childhood I have been a big fan of western series, especially Rawhide & Bonanza. As a teenager I was a member of Lorne Greene’s fan club for many years, the actor who played the role of Ben Cartwright for 14 seasons. In the 1980s, the fan club stopped. My enthusiasm for westerns and series remained. With my horse, Cassan, I rode a lot in the woods and on the sand drifts as a cowboy.
One day I was tipped off by a salesperson in a bookstore to a book describing Western series from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: “Television Westerns – Major and Minor Series; 1946-1978” by Richard West. While reading, I came across a short summary of the series The Rifleman. Somehow this appealed to me. I then ordered a three-episode DVD from Amazon. I found the episodes more than worth ordering more. Now I have the complete series at home. It’s a pleasure every time I watch an episode. The protagonists played by Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford especially fascinated me, so much that I went to the internet to find more information about them both. I wanted to know who they were, what they had been up to, especially with the idea of ordering some more films with them. That’s how I discovered that Johnny is not only an actor, but also a singer, band leader, narrator/reader of western stories, and even a music show host. A versatile person who intrigued me more and more. Rawhide and Bonanza faded into the background, and The Rifleman became my number one show, and Johnny became my favorite actor.
In recent years I have now purchased just about everything Johnny has done and released. From vinyl to CDs and loads of movies on DVD (The Mickey Mouse Club, Crossbow, The Lone Ranger, and also the many movies he has appeared in). I even have The Rifleman board game. What a wonderful man he must have been. Unfortunately I never got to meet him. I do carry him in my heart, and I’m very happy that I have a lot of his material and can enjoy it every day.
In addition, I’m very happy that I got to know Stacey Shaffer through “Johnny Crawford Legacy.” It is now only via email (we correspond regularly) and Facebook, but I hope to meet her in America one day. Even though I haven’t met her yet, I see her as a real friend I can talk to—about Johnny, about western series, but also about private matters.
Partly thanks to Stacey, and of course Johnny’s qualities as a singer, musician and actor, I am now a very big fan of Johnny. I hope to enjoy his films and music for a long time to come. Johnny is really great. It is a pity that he is no longer with us. Fortunately, he left behind a very large, interesting legacy. And I enjoy that every day. And I’m sure many do with me.
by Brian Hogan
“Are you good at writing? I feel you have a story to tell”
I found this picture in a frame on my mom’s desk, and that question from an exchange in messenger popped into my head and I thought, “do I have a story to tell?” Absolutely, I have quite a few, and they start with this picture.
This picture was taken in Hollywood, in front of our home on the corner of Citrus and Clinton. It was taken by my Uncle Johnny. I believe was 16 at the time.
I idolized my uncle Johnny, we all did. When we were children it was Johnny who wrestled with us, played games with us, he made us laugh until we couldn’t breathe, he made us feel very loved. He was the perfect role model for a little boy who had lost his father.
Johnny was my first introduction to Jazz. I was twelve, it was Thanksgiving, we were headed out the door when he walked up to me and handed me a mixtape of early Bing Crosby. It was a pivotal moment in my life. I listened to that tape every night on the tape deck my sister Patti bought me as a birthday gift. I would lay in bed listening, quietly singing along, trying to sound as smooth and comforting as the voice coming thru the speaker. I wanted to be a crooner because of that tape. I guess you could say Johnny introduced me to my first vocal coach.
When we were early teens Johnny would show up at the house and take my sister Shawna and I to see classic movies at the Vagabond Theater. He started with Good News, then it was Top Hat, and Swing Time, he was in his Fred Astaire phase, so most of the films were Fred and Ginger, RKO extravaganzas. Going to see these gems with Johnny sparked lifetime love of old Hollywood, and more specifically, Hollywood Musicals.
Johnny was always surprising me; if he called and invited me somewhere, I went. I went because I knew it would be an interesting day no matter what he had planned.
One day, in my late teens, Johnny called and asked if I’d like to help him out? He was appearing in a production at a dinner theater and needed help with costumes, or so he claimed. I told him I didn’t know anything about costumes, he said he would show me, so of course I said yes. When I got to the theater he passed me off to his girlfriend Victoria who entertained me while I waited. After what seemed like hours Johnny reappeared and asks me to come with him, telling me as we walked, he would like to introduce me to a friend of his. We emerged from behind a curtain and walked up to a round table where there were five, or six, it may have been seven, it was a lot, a lot of very pretty ladies, and in the center was a man in a white suit, he was smoking a cigar, it was Colonel Tom Parker. Johnny introduced me to the Colonel, and the Col. introduced the ladies at his table as his “secretaries.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. Johnny was well aware of my love of everything Elvis Presley, so he must have gotten a total kick from my reaction.
My only foray into film required knowing how to ride a motorcycle. I had been around motorcycles in my childhood. I knew the fundamentals, but it had been years since I’d been on one. My uncle Bobby, who was a producer on this film, sent me to Johnny who had a Honda Nighthawk, and my brother James and Johnny gave me a crash course. Johnny then loaned me his motorcycle to use while he was out of town for the summer.
I have plenty more wonderful memories of my uncle Johnny, these only scratch the surface.
My Uncle Johnny passed away a little over a year ago after losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. I visited Johnny the day before he passed, kissed him on the forehead and said “I love you.” Unbelievably hard day, one I have not spoken publicly about until now.
To millions of TV viewers he was Johnny Crawford, the son of The Rifleman, he was a Mouseketeer, a teen idol with hit records, then a leader jazz orchestra…to me, he was Uncle Johnny.
A New Fan in 2022
by Donna Chandler (from California, now in Texas)
Not too long ago, I was at home during the day, which is not typical for me, and came across MeTV and noticed a lot of their programming included some of my favorite TV shows from when I was a kid. I landed on Bonanza and remembered how my older sister and I watched the shown in our small black and white because of Michael Landon…duh. She was in charge of the viewing selection, so we watched lots of Bonanza, Big Valley, and Star Trek; of course she had crushes on Lee Majors and William Shatner, too.
So, on this day at home, the next show after Bonanza was The Rifleman. I wasn’t familiar with it, it’s 30-minutes, not a huge commitment, I’ll watch. The episode was called, “The Vision.” I didn’t know the name of it at the time but I was so moved by Johnny’s performance I had to look it up and him. Who is this kid? His portrayal of Mark McCain was so believable and authentic that I started watching more episodes and became more impressed by his acting chops. He could hold his own among the best actors that traveled through North Fork and he was just a kid!
Growing up, we definitely were a TV family and I can recite the premise of every Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, Brady Bunch episode from the first two minutes of the show from watching reruns over the years. But The Rifleman was different. I had no clue what these shows were about and started searching and viewing chronologically from the first season and first episode and haven’t looked back. Who does that? Me,
because I’m a Johnny Crawford fan.
I only wish I discovered him earlier but I know him now and enjoy watching his work, both as a child and adult actor. It’s harder to find his later acting roles but when I do it’s fun to see him all grown up. I nearly lost it when I found him on a Murder, She Wrote episode!
Thank you for sharing his vast array of work and talent!
He Came To Visit Me
by Tom Turner (now in Northern California)
I met Johnny Crawford in the summer of 1965. I grew up in Wakefield, MA, a suburb of Boston. Johnny was appearing at Pleasure Island, a local amusement park. I was 14 years old. I was in a body cast, recovering from back surgery. Johnny came to my home to visit me. What a thrill for me, for my cousins, and for all the kids in the neighborhood!
I’ve attached a copy of an article from a local newspaper published the day after Johnny’s visit. To this day, I share this newspaper article with friends because I think it is an interesting story. I also want to show them that Johnny was a kind person and a nice guy who came to visit me during my recuperation.
I recently celebrated my 70th birthday. I am forever grateful to Johnny Crawford for giving me a memory that I cherish.
I offer my deepest sympathy to Johnny’s wife, Charlotte McKenna Crawford and to all of Johnny’s family.
In My Wildest Dreams
by Susan Pino (from Massachusetts)
I first met Johnny Crawford in 1965 when he was in my hometown (Agawam, MA) for a performance at a great little amusement park called Riverside Park.
A friend of mine who worked for a local TV station was asked to meet with Johnny and record some audio promos for his TV show The Rifleman. He asked me to join him. I was beyond excited that I would meet Johnny. I was a big fan of his music and loved watching him as Mark McCain on The Rifleman. We went to the inn where he was staying to do the recordings. The first thing I noticed was how handsome he was. He had such a warm and welcoming personality, and he made you feel so comfortable. His dad was traveling with him, and I could see where Johnny got his good looks.
We spent a little more than an hour with them, thoroughly enjoying our conversation. (Well, at least we did and we hope they did as well!) Suddenly, Johnny went to his luggage and took out a photo and autographed it for me. I was so surprised because of course I hadn’t asked for one. It made the photo even more special.
Fast forward to a year later, August 1966. Johnny was 20 and I was 19. I heard Johnny was coming back to Agawam to give three performances at Riverside Park. He came up from Long Island where he was stationed in the army. With great regret I was unable to go to his first show due to a previous commitment. For his second performance I went a little early. I parked my car and walked around to the area behind the stage, and he was standing there. I was so happy when he remembered me. A newspaper reporter saw us greet each other and asked if we had met before. He asked if he could take a picture of us posing with a script of the show. The picture and a very nice article were in the next morning’s paper.
I watched Johnny’s performance and he was fantastic. He sang every one of his hit songs. The crowd cheered after each song. Johnny has long been active with the rodeo, so he displayed some of his roping techniques. And last but not least, he played the harmonica—purchased by someone in the park that day—to wild applause! He is a man of many talents. The crowd was just thrilled with his performance.
After the show, I was walking back to my car and Johnny was going by in a car with the talent manager from the Park. Johnny opened the window and asked if I would like to join them for lunch at a local restaurant. You can imagine my surprise and delight! So off we went. After eating, when we got in the car for the short drive back, the talent manager asked Johnny if he would like to use the car and perhaps have me show him around our picturesque little town. (My heart nearly stopped.)
So we dropped the gentleman off and started our little drive. I couldn’t believe this was really happening! I showed him around, and we actually stopped at my house, a couple of miles from the Park, so he could meet my parents and two brothers. We were all fans of The Rifleman. When I asked my six-year-old brother who Johnny was, he saw a grownup, not a kid, so naturally he thought it was Lucas McCain. We then explained that he had been watching movies of Mark McCain on The Rifleman when he was a boy and that now he is a grownup. Even though he was only six, my brother does remember that day.
Johnny was so gracious meeting my family, and you could see they were very taken with him. He was such a gentleman. I fondly remember my Dad and him chatting away as though they had known each other for years.
Johnny told us a cute story about traveling to Agawam the day before. He said he was on the Massachusetts Turnpike, which is a toll road. He didn’t have much cash on him, and he suddenly realized that he had to get off the Turnpike two exits early because he didn’t have enough money to go any further! Now that’s down-to-earth! The entire family has talked of our time with Johnny very often throughout the years.
Eventually we had to get back to the Park for his final show at 7 pm. We went to the trailer that was provided for the performers to dress and to relax in. He went in to change and when he came back out, he walked quickly over to me with a movie camera in his hand. He asked if I had ever used one before, and I could hear myself saying, “Oh, yes” when my mind was saying, “I have no idea how to use this.” He wanted me to film his performance! He showed me where to stand on the stage to do the filming. What a great view I had! I filmed the entire performance, praying the whole time that I was using the camera properly. I really couldn’t believe I said I had used a movie camera before, but it was like I couldn’t control what my mouth was saying! So to Johnny I say, “Johnny, I really hope the film of your performance that I made with your camera so long ago came out okay. Until this day, I have worried about that film!”
After the last performance, I met him at the trailer and returned his camera. We said goodbye and I thanked him for making my day. And he thanked me for introducing him to my family. That was just incredible to me, and it says so much about how kind and thoughtful Johnny is and about the wonderful upbringing he had.
I have followed Johnny’s career over the years. As I read about his accomplishments with his dance orchestra, one of his many endeavors, I was just so amazed at his talent. And to see him in videos directing his orchestra brings me such joy—joy for him and joy for his whole family. He certainly has deserved to experience all good things in life.
I’d like to pause here to say that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get to meet Johnny and not only that, spend time with him. What a wonderful memory that is for me.
I forgot to mention that his performance at the Park in 1966 brought the biggest crowd ever – 10,000 people! That is just amazing for the little park. And I would also like to say thank you to Johnny for the years of The Rifleman we enjoyed so much and for the many other roles he played, and for being a fantastic role model for generations of kids.
After writing this story I have come to realize that Johnny Crawford isn’t only an actor, singer, musician and band leader, he is an American Treasure.
by Janice Snyder (from Texas)
Many of the outdoor scenes in Indian Paint were shot near our house in north central Texas. One of my best friend’s acreage was used for a lot of the scenes. My friend’s dad was part Indian as well as being an excellent horse rider. He was chosen to be one of the extras in some scenes.
There was a riding arena near the filming area, and we used it for weeknight practice for the various games we played on horseback. One night I was there practicing, and Johnny rode right by me. I greeted him, and we spoke for awhile. He gave me his autograph, and I was in teenage heaven for months after that.
Bridging the Gap
by Stephanie Kanoun (in Connecticut)
I was born to my parents late in life, so I never got to know my grandparents very well. One of my grandfathers had already passed on and the other developed dementia while I was young. When Poppop moved to a nursing home, I started feeling a sense of loss—that I would never know the things that a grandfather would teach you. Then I noticed the shows that he often watched in the nursing home. And I asked my dad what Poppop watched growing up. I thought maybe if I watched the things from his past, maybe I’d learn the things he would have said to me. I watched Andy Griffith, and Bonanza, and The Rifleman. The Rifleman immediately stood out to me and couldn’t get enough of it. I loved Lucas and Mark and I loved learning about Chuck and Johnny. I joined a Rifleman forum group and found a wonderful, loving online community to discuss the show and many other things. I listened to Johnny’s music and watched many of the shows he guest starred in.
All of my grandparents have now passed on, but I don’t feel lacking anymore. The creative works of Johnny (and so many others) have taught me valuable lessons that I can now carry and teach to my young family. Thank you, Johnny! <3
by Nancy Hovey (from Burbank and now Idaho)
The Crawford brothers kept their horses at Fred Bales Stables in Burbank. Johnny would train his horse in the arena there. One of my girlfriends kept her horse at the stables and some other girls I met at Fred Bales also had horses there, or at their nearby houses. I rode double with a lot of them. One friend of mine, in the weekly group I rode with, asked Johnny to go with her on a hayride we were having. He accepted, so she told him it was on Saturday night and gave him the time. Well, he wasn’t there on time, so our hayride started. My friend started to get all excited when from behind, a horse was galloping towards us with two fellows on it. Johnny was on the back of the horse, and when the horse got alongside our wagon, he reached out and jumped on! He kept his promise to her!
That’s how both Johnny and Bobby were. They were both very approachable. Every weekend I would hang out at the stables. One Saturday, we were having one of our Corral 17 horse shows (a lot of us were members, including Johnny). I’d seen Bobby ride in some of the shows on his horse Troy. On this particular day, I was standing at the end of the arena when Bobby rode over on Troy, and I guess he figured out that I didn’t have my own horse. He started talking to me and told me that before he got Troy he used to rent a horse named Glory from the stables he boarded at. She was a good horse. This meant so much to me, that a Crawford had a kind enough heart to give me this information. I usually just said hi to them and vice versa. This conversation with Bobby meant so much to me. I wish he knew how much it meant to me back then. I was probably 13 and now I am 72 but I’ll never forget his kind gesture! Those brothers were raised right. Do unto others as you would want them to do to you! My heart aches to think that Johnny might not remember those days.
Johnny is a very multi-talented cowboy. When I talked to him about 4 years ago on the phone, he told me that the feeling you get when sliding off your horse to reach for a steer’s horns is the best feeling ever. I was hoping to get him here for The Snake River Stampede held in July of each year, which is a PRCA Rodeo. He was already booked for something else. He said he would rather come here if he could. As it was getting close to the rodeo, the Board of Directors weren’t able to get a sponsor for him. They tried very hard, though. When I was talking to Johnny about the rodeo one day, he asked me if I knew of Dean Oliver, a many time All-Around Champion who Johnny said he heard was from Boise. Dean was inducted into 7 different halls of fame. I found out he was on the Board of Directors for the Stampede. Turns out the idol of many teenage girls had an idol, named Dean Oliver! I just never realized that idols have idols also!
Later, my family moved to Shadow Hills in Sunland. I was about 15 then. I joined Corral 20 which held monthly horse shows at Hansen Dam. My next-door neighbor had about 4 or 5 horses at any time that I could ride. Anyway, at those horse shows, Robert Fuller entered in some of them for the cow hide race. They would tie a cow hide (on the ground) to a rider’s saddle horn. When the rider galloped to the other end of the arena, the other person (in this case Bob) would grab the rope and jump to lay down on the cow hide and be pulled around the arena. It looked like fun but dangerous also. I saw him on a few occasions.
One other thing that Johnny did for me was when I was 12. I really think Carmen Dirigo (Hollywood hairstylist and president of Corral 17) may have gotten in touch with him to make this happen. My hip fell apart, and I was in St. Joseph’s Hospital for 2 weeks. When I received my mail one day, there was a large-size postcard from Johnny, sent from a personal appearance tour he was on in Hawaii! It made my day!
A Treasure to Me
by M. Stacey Shaffer (site administrator & DVD team member)
I remember watching The Rifleman reruns occasionally growing up, and I was always drawn to the sensitive son and his relationship with his father, rather than the gun play. My Johnny Crawford story really began the summer of 1985, when my friend’s grandmother gave us her season tickets to a matinee of Of Mice And Men at the San Diego Old Globe Theatre. I remember looking through the program and being pleasantly surprised that Johnny Crawford was in the cast. The play was very good, with Johnny effectively menacing and spoiled as Curley.
In late 2011, I started watching MeTV, revisiting some favorite programs from my childhood. The many showings each week of The Rifleman drew me in, and I started doing research on the cast and guest actors. Soon I joined the forum at RiflemanConnors.com and started listening to Johnny’s dance band recordings. I made one of my first YouTube videos using screen captures of Mark McCain, set to the Del-Fi recording of “Treasure.” I emailed the link to Johnny, and he sent me a delightful reply:
“It’s so very sweet of you to make this video of that young man I used to know. He still visits me once in a while. Thank you. You’re an angel to me.” — Johnny
Once I’d seen every episode of The Rifleman on repeat, I decided to check out older brother Bobby’s western, Laramie. I enjoyed it very much, especially the early seasons. I joined Robert Fuller’s fan group, making lots of new friends around the world.
In March 2013, I attended Festival of the West in Arizona, where Johnny, Bobby, and Robert Fuller were celebrity guests. I liked Bobby immediately and didn’t want to leave his table. Johnny was so sweet, taking such care over what to write on the 8×10 I got from him: “You’re a treasure to me.” Both he and Bobby signed the Del-Fi 45 record of “Good Buddies” that I brought, which I have in a frame here on my desk. What I especially enjoyed was watching Bobby watch Johnny interact with fans at their adjoining tables. Johnny always had a long line, and Bobby always had a delightful smile, clearly enjoying the attention his brother was receiving.
I feel very fortunate to now be part of the Johnny Crawford Legacy team, working with Johnny’s family and friends. He inspired my first efforts at video making, and now I can use those skills (much improved, I hope) to help him now.
Johnny Crawford: Then and Now
by Wendy Byers (from Michigan)
The Rifleman was on TV when I was 7 years old. “That was then!” I was glued to the black & white screen as Mark would ride his horse, do chores, eat candy, and sometimes get into mischief, as most boys do! My eyes were on him on TV, teen magazines, comic books, and even a hardcover The Rifleman book. My bedroom had pictures plastered with Johnny!! Then my first Johnny Crawford record album was given to me as a gift from my mom, who loved the Big Bands from the 30s and 40s. Then another album and another!! Blasting Johnny on my old Arvin record player non-stop! Scrap books, singing with Johnny, impatiently waiting for the next teen magazines to be in stores—I had a great time loving Johnny! That was then.
Now I’m 69 years old, still love Johnny, but instead of teen magazines photos of him on my walls, I hang kids and grandkids….BUT….I have taken photos of pictures using my phone of—you know it—Johnny! So I have a nice photo collage of Johnny, Charlotte, Nance, and Bobby on my wall that I have taken from the internet. Plus I still blast my CDs of Johnny on my CD player! “This is now!”
I enjoy the Facebook groups for Johnny and wait patiently for Charlotte’s update each week. Yes, this is now. It is wonderful to see Johnny in different movies and TV shows. Johnny is a wonderful actor, from The Mickey Mouse Club, Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and all the many other shows he has been in. His Orchestra was and is a treat, and he’s so handsome in tails and top hat! I’m praying every day for Johnny and his lovely family. My husband Donnie is also in a nursing facility, for dementia, so I can certainly relate to Charlotte’s love and pain for her beloved Johnny. When I send Donnie cards…Johnny gets one, too!
❤️ Thank you for giving me the chance to share my then and now stories. Wendy Byers, a loyal friend and fan ❤️
Meeting My Hero
by Carl Leffel (from Georgia)
Growing up at Fort Benning, Georgia, allowed us kids to always get into everything. I do remember one day while delivering TV guides to my many customers, I saw a large group of people in a field next to our house. I rode my bicycle down to several MPs (Military Police), who had the road blocked, and asked what was going on. The one MP told me they were making a training film and Johnny Crawford was there. JOHNNY CRAWFORD!!—that was Mark McCain from The Rifleman and one of my heroes. After telling the MPs how much I liked Mr. Crawford and how I used to play his character while we were in Germany from 1959-1962, he ask me if I would like to meet him…I almost wet my pants when he said that. The MP got on the radio and after a few minutes, he walked over to me and said, “Leave your bike and lets go.”
We walked across the field, and I can assure you I was scared to death. Because of my father’s job, I had met generals, Senators and representatives of congress, but nobody as famous as Johnny Crawford. In my eyes he was a national hero. I remember walking to the crowd of folks when…wait…there he was. I could see him…he was right there. Maybe 50 feet or so. I froze, not wanting to mess this up. The MP walked up to another gentleman and they talked, then the MP turned and motioned for me to come over. Now we were only 10-15 feet apart, and he looked toward me. WOW…Johnny Crawford. He was in uniform, and after a few minutes, someone walked over to him and they talked. After a second or two, he came over to me and stuck out his hand. I could not believe it, my hero Mark McCain was going to shake my hand. He asked me my name, and I told him and told him everything I could remember about him. I finally asked him for his autograph but all I had was the money I was collecting for my TV Guides, so I asked him to sign a dollar bill. I remember him snickering that I would spend the dollar. (I was 12) and I promised I never would.
And I never did, but when my Mom moved from Columbus, Georgia, to Austin, Texas, in the early 80s, the dollar, along with my entire coin collection, was stolen along with many other items. I was devastated at the loss, but I still had the memory. That will never be taken.
The day I met Sergeant Crawford has remained with me all of my life, and that day helped change my life. Because of that meeting and the fact my father was in the military, I entered the Army on 11 September 1972 and also served a tour at Ft Benning, GA. Many times while stationed there, I would drive past the area where we lived and the field where I met Johnny Crawford. I finished my military career on 1 October 1992 and have Johnny Crawford and my Dad to thank for my wonderful career.
I loved the character of Mark McCain and dreamed of the relationship he had with his father Lucas. That relationship was something I never had with my dad, and I used to play the role of Mark McCain in order to have that relationship. Thank you, Johnny Crawford.
In The Army
by Tom Hervey (From Rosemead, Los Angeles County, California, and now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area)
Johnny and I were inducted into the US Army at the same time on 21 December 1965, in Los Angeles. We were flown on the same airplane to El Paso, Texas. We went through Basic Training together, along with others, at Fort Bliss in Company D, 3d Battalion, 2d Brigade. I was in the 1st Platoon and Johnny was in the 2nd Platoon. Many of us were away from home for the very first time in our lives. Our actual training commenced on 27 December 1965 and was completed on 19 February 1966.
On Christmas Day, Johnny put on an “official” show for all of us. From what I can recall, Johnny put on two shows in order to accommodate everyone. I believe that those who got to attend were just those of us basic training recruits plus the cadre, top brass and their VIPs. I think Johnny spoke some about himself but mostly he sang songs that he had recorded and a couple of Christmas carols.
I never felt Johnny was treated any differently than the rest of us. Johnny had to go through the same training as the rest of us did. He pulled K.P. like everyone else did. He had his Sergeant yelling at him like I had my Sergeant yelling at me to do better. About half of our Company’s recruits were from the L.A. area and the other half were from Colorado, mostly the Denver area. There were a couple of guys in our outfit that I had gone to school with but I don’t know if there were anyone that Johnny knew prior to being inducted into the Army.
I do remember that Johnny had volunteered for the Draft. If you knew you were going to be drafted at some point, you could talk to your local draft board and kind of work out a time deal for when that was to occur. The reasoning behind that was that Draftees only had to serve two years actively as opposed to those who enlisted in the Regular Army who had to serve three years. Just about all the recruits in our outfit were Draftees. Back in that time there was not a “lottery number” that we all came under. That didn’t come about until December of 1969, after Johnny and I, plus many, many others, had fulfilled our obligations.
After our training was completed, Johnny was sent on his way and I was sent on my way, which included a tour in Vietnam.
I salute you, Johnny Crawford, for your service to our nation…